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For Austin renters, it's time to face the music: adapt to record rent prices or leave the Live Music Capital for good

Record rent prices are plaguing Austin renters as many consider moving out of town. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

Is an Austin exodus already upon us?

As the cumbersome weight of the pandemic set in on the country, the city of Austin seemed to become a beacon of opportunity for remote workers and city dwellers across the United States. From 2010-2020—a decade that saw Tesla CEO Elon Musk, countless Californians and dozens of tech startups move en masse into the swelling city—the metro's population grew by nearly a third and cemented itself as the fastest-growing large metro in the nation.

But as quickly as some piled in, it seems others are beginning to trickle out. Leases are coming to an end for many, and some longtime Austinites are considering leaving their homes for the first time in years as apartment complexes respond to rising demand with record-high rent prices and renewal rates.

Average monthly asking rent prices leaped more than every U.S. city but Portland from January 2021-2022, according to Redfin. The 35% increase represented a national trend—10 of the U.S. cities studied saw rent prices increase by over 30%, while just two cities saw a year-over-year decrease.

When Katera Berent moved into her first South Congress apartment, she was living comfortably for $1,600 a month. But that turned out to be the best it would get before she made the move to Denver.

"By the time I left, I had to live in a place that was literally falling apart and also wildly unsafe for near the same amount after utilities and fees," Berent said. "Rent (in Denver) is crazy too but not nearly as bad as Austin."

She's not alone—on sites like Nextdoor, community groups have been made specifically to discuss the looming fear of rent renewal prices and affordable housing in the metro.

(Rental Community of Austin/Nextdoor)

(Rental Community of Austin/Nextdoor)

It's posing a problem for recent move-ins and longtime Austinites alike. Sherry Ricker, who has lived at one of the AMLI apartment complexes in Austin for 10 years, is one of many who were shocked to see that they can no longer afford the places they've called home for decades.

"My fellow renters and I are being pushed out," Ricker told Austonia. "We've received rent increase notices ranging from $400-$800 per month. My increase is a 20% increase over (the) prior year... I don't understand how they expect people on fixed incomes to absorb increases like that."

And the hot topic of affordability (or lack thereof) has bled into the housing market as well, with median home prices in the metro reaching a record high of nearly $500,000 in February.

Lori Mellinger, who has rented an Austin duplex since October 2020, felt the effects of the booming housing market firsthand when she went home one day and saw a For Sale sign planted in her yard.

With a move-out deadline set for May 31 (the duplex has already been sold), the odds are stacked against her: as a formerly incarcerated person, she's subject to discrimination based on her criminal record on top of mounting rent.

"A criminal record is a huge barrier for a lot of us in a town that says it's all about second chances," Mellinger said. "There are a lot of advocacy jobs for the formerly incarcerated (in Austin) if we know how to maneuver that, which brings us to Austin, the most difficult housing market in the state... what they have for employers, they certainly don't have for renters."

Mellinger doesn't know what she'll do if she can't find a place in time, but she knows she may one day have to leave the metro if prices continue to climb.

Even with record-breaking rent, Austin is still seen as a cheaper haven for tech workers, Californians and others from even more expensive metros.

But Austin's quick growth has already given hints to a more level future. In 2021, arriving U-Hauls made up just 50.4% of one-way rides in Austin, meaning just about the same number of people that trickle in to the Texas capitol are beginning to head out.


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